Christmas can be a nightmare for people with bipolar disorder. As the philosopher Posidonius observed in the fourth century, ‘Melancholy occurs in autumn whereas mania in summer.’ Here downunder in Australia, Christmas is summer time, party time, spending time, hurry time, family time. This is a potent mix of triggers and seasonal vulnerability and many of us do fall over with mania. Friends and family don’t always recognise Christmas mania, because symptoms such as excessive drinking, lavish spending, staying up late at functions, and being in a hurry are features of the season. The stress involved with ‘having’ to buy Christmas presents and ‘having’ to get together with family, along with summer-time vulnerability make Christmas a bipolar nightmare in the southern hemisphere.

It’s not much better up north. Since the fourth century we haven’t come much further than Posidonius except to declare there is such a thing as Seasonal Affective Disorder. It seems the number of hours of daylight you experience is related to your likelihood of getting depressed in winter. The closer you are to the poles, the better your chances.

Then there are seasonal triggers, such as figuring out how to buy presents on a tight budget. If you’re depressed, the ubiquitous expectation to be happy (just because it’s Christmas) only makes things worse.

Short of walking around with a sunlight-emitting lamp strapped to your forehead, or cutting up your credit card, what can you do about seasonal episodes of bipolar? Here are some quick tips to rescue Christmas.

1. Maintain your daily sleep/wake routine. Use medicine if you have to;

2. Keep in control of drinking. If you suddenly start a binge, it could be a major alert of an episode;

3. Make a Christmas shopping list and don’t buy anything not on the list!

4. Ask your partner or friend to help you stick to a budget;

5. Keep up medication;

6. Check in with your doctor or mental health worker as soon as you or someone close notices symptoms;

7. Keep away from any ‘toxic’ family members (you know who they are).

No plan is failsafe, but then again, having no plan is like going out without an umbrella on a stormy day. You can live well with bipolar, and Christmas doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Plan ahead and have a healthy, happy Christmas.

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